I could not afford to fly home for Christmas on my meagre salary and begrudgingly accepted my festive destiny: being alone. Well, technically, I was not alone, if I was to include the critters quietly doing their private research and development in my cupboards. To cheer myself, in an attempt to embrace “the experience”, I prepared to savour the chosen two or three scrumptious extravagances to enjoy over the next few days – shrimp and oysters (Mom’s old family traditions) and some cream cheese plus a bagel or two (my Montreal friends’ influence). And of course, a bottle of crisp, and perfectly chilled, white wine. However, as I settled in for the evening with my mass of candles, it did not matter what I chose from this comedy of buffets — from plump, pink shrimp to a smoky-flavoured oyster, I could not get the taste of metal from my mouth. I would swish, take a bite … swish, brush my teeth. And increasingly and more unsettlingly, I became jittery, fidgety.
I checked in via telephone with most of the usual suspects. Christmas Eve and everyone was pretty much snuggled in after completing a similar routine to mine, in varying geographical clusters of family, friends and colleagues – snacking, yakking and sipping.
I tried another round of the crisp, white decadence in hopes of distraction, to no avail – metal, metal, metal. After a day more of this irritation, scattered energy and “dis-tastefulness”, I received a phone call.
“There’s been an accident. Marie and John were in an accident.” My immediate response was, “How is John?” For some reason, I thought it would have been he who was hurt. I have no idea why I automatically assumed that. And when Isaac told me that John was okay, I assumed incorrectly once again that she was okay too. The brain in combination with the deficiencies of the communication process does not fare well in such circumstances.
“No, it was not John, my dear, it was Marie.” I just could not fathom what was being said. She was killed in the car accident? On Christmas Day? Instantly, I realized why I tasted metal, metal, metal. Foreshadowing. I also experienced instantaneous denial, screeching, “We must go back to the highway! We must double-check!! We must, we must, we must!!”
Isaac kept reassuring me that they did go back. All had been checked, double-checked, signed and confirmed. There was no mistake. We are to begin grieving. Now. Today. This afternoon. He informed me that he was coming over immediately. If there were any more words said that day, I don’t remember what they were.
When John returned to Toronto, where he, Marie and I all lived, I called him and asked if I could come over. “Yes, please,” was his response. I staggered into his kitchen with a bevy of food and favourite beverages. I warmly hugged whoever was milling around on the main floor. They motioned to the stairs. “He’s up there.” When I reached the top of the stairs, John stood up and we grabbed each other and just stood there — the scent of her swirling around the room. Tears streamed and we just held each other, as awkward as it was for me, being five feet tall on a good day, and John at least six feet two. All other personal responsibilities and/or world-wide tragedies occurring at that moment were irrelevant at that time. We succumbed to our grief and simply wept.
As soon as we entered the church on the day of the service, we were handed a “program”. It had her picture on it. I walked into the church and walked right back out again. Seeing her picture like that made it all real. “Marie A.” It was all there in black and white. There was no mistake. They really did go back and check.
In her death, I remembered her as larger than life. There are very, very few people walking the face of our planet like her. She was extraordinarily playful and had a laugh that boomed like the most entertaining and infectious cannon imaginable. Anyone and everyone who knew her commented on her unique and vo-luminous laugh.
As we gathered at John’s house after the service — through the tears and trauma – we all tried to remember her in her awe; and celebrate her. John gently reminded us how amazing she was; he asked us to keep that in the forefront of our minds. I was inspired through my grief at this man continually celebrated her while he processed the magnitude of his loss. His wife, his friend, his true love.
A day or so later, John called and asked if I would “go through her things.” He had also invited her sister and her other closest friend. I was simultaneously honoured and terrified. Of course I would go, I reassured him. Of course. These were a few of the most intimate days I have spent with three other people. We would collectively and achingly laugh as each of us took turns holding up the radical and untimely, and most unfashionable pieces of clothing that she so cherished. “Why, why, why did she think she looked so cool?” THAT was Marie. She did not care. Not even an itsy bit. She was ever an individual if there was even just one on this planet. We sobbed as we voted on who is most worthy of each piece of clothing, painstakingly, selected her precious spices, teas and natural concoctions. She was a healer, an aroma therapist, vegetarian and philanthropist. She was a most unusual collector – and we were each awarded a valise of her precious treasures. I promptly drove home and put this “Marie Anthology” beside my bed. I did not touch it for weeks.
I went to see a grief counsellor the next day. He wanted to experiment with this technique of “touch therapy” where I would be sitting in a chair and he would touch my toe, for example and I would tell him how I felt or what I was experiencing. I said I was up for it, anything to help me move through this process. He started with my foot and by the time he got to my knee, I began to have that taste in my mouth again. Metal, metal, metal. And this time, mixed with dirt. I felt the twirling … the graceful ascension through the air. It all happened in an instant, but it felt like it lasted forever. Metal and dirt and air. And then, no air. I felt it all. Then, the counsellor asked me to lie down in the next room and say aloud what I had experienced. I could feel her hovering right above me. It was a distinct fluttering. I felt so much love. I shouted and cried out all my words of grief, love, anger, devastation … all through the peculiarity of the physical-ness of the dirt, et al. And then, at long last, I felt some relief.
There were many days of The Gang gathering, cooking, curling up together and sharing suppers on TV tables. There were uncountable tears; silent and highly vocal at times. Gradually, we began to pull back a little, each taking some space and personal breathing room. Once we felt like we all could stand without wobbly legs, we began to get up and get on with life. Although it was agonizing, we respected “the process” and I am grateful that we supported, validated and treated each other with such loving-kindness. It was a privilege to have a collection of such honourable friends around me at that time – especially my exceptional friend, Marie.